A Guide To Zoloft As An OCD Treatment

If you’re living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you are not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) cites a 2.3% lifetime prevalence of OCD among US adults.¹

You may experience intrusive and persistent thoughts about your biggest fears every day. These result in compulsions and behaviors that you may not fully understand. 

Work, play, socializing, and relaxing like the people around you can be difficult as obsessions and compulsions get in the way. As a result, you may feel like an outcast and withdraw from social situations, leading to depression and anxiety. 

Fortunately, OCD is manageable and treatable, and numerous treatment options exist. Even if you've tried one treatment option without success, don't despair; there's still hope that you'll find one that works for you. 

One popular OCD treatment option is Zoloft. Keep reading to learn more about the drug. 

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is Zoloft (sertraline)?

Zoloft is an antidepressant medication that doctors prescribe around the world. Its popularity comes down to two key factors: Extensive marketing and effectiveness. 

Outside the US, Zoloft is known by other names such as Serlain, Lustral, and Tresleen. 

Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Doctors primarily use it to treat depression, but it’s also effective with OCD and other conditions. 

History of Zoloft

Zoloft is a product of Pfizer Inc., one of the largest pharmaceutical corporations in the world. In the 1970s, one of their chemists discovered lometraline, a compound that doctors prescribed as an antipsychotic drug. 

A few years later, another chemist discovered that one of lometraline's derivatives had serotonin reuptake capabilities. This derivative was Zoloft, which the company patented. 

After years of clinical trials, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Zoloft for OCD and other mental health disorders. On the expiry of Pfizer's patent in 2006, a generic form of Zoloft became available: Sertraline.²

What is Zoloft for?

The primary use of Zoloft is for treating major depressive disorder. However, as with most SSRIs, it's also effective for treating other conditions such as:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Panic disorder

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)

  • Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety

Zoloft and OCD

The FDA’s data indicates Zoloft is an effective OCD treatment. So, how does it work?

How SSRIs affect the brain

OCD, depression, and other mental health disorders affect how the brain functions. One of the effects they have is changing the pattern of release and reuptake of some neurotransmitters. 

Serotonin is among the affected neurotransmitters. It's responsible for relaying messages between neurons in the areas of the brain that influence mood. You could experience mental health impacts if: 

  • Your body breaks down and absorbs serotonin too quickly.

  • Your brain has less or malfunctioning serotonin receptors.

  • You have low levels of substances that help you make serotonin (e.g., L-tryptophan, vitamins D and B6, and omega-3 fatty acids).

Including Zoloft, there are numerous SSRIs available on the market. These drugs have become an evidence-based method of managing mental health conditions. 

By inhibiting the reabsorption of serotonin, more of the neurotransmitter stays outside the neurons. This is where they perform their essential role, restoring normal brain function and alleviating symptoms of mental illness. 

Is Zoloft effective with OCD symptoms?

In the past, doctors used the tricyclic antidepressant clomipramine to treat OCD. As this drug can cause more side effects, physicians typically prescribe Zoloft and other SSRIs instead. In cases where you don’t respond to SSRIs, your doctor will weigh up the pros and cons of prescribing clomipramine.

Zoloft is one of the most popular drugs for obsessive-compulsive disorder. By limiting the reuptake of serotonin into neurons, it improves mood, fears, anxiety, obsessions, and compulsions. This alleviates symptoms of OCD and mood and anxiety disorders. 

Researchers have found that Zoloft and other SSRIs can reduce symptoms of OCD as much as clomipramine but with fewer side effects. To get the best results with Zoloft, you must combine it with psychotherapies such as exposure and response prevention therapy. This ensures you’re dealing with your thought processes at the root of the condition.³

Zoloft for OCD-related depression

Obsessive-compulsive disorder has a high comorbidity rate with depression. Considering how much the symptoms of OCD can wear you down, it’s not surprising that depression is often closely linked to OCD. 

One clinical study found the prevalence of depression in people with OCD to be as high as 67.5%. As Zoloft is an effective antidepressant, it can treat symptoms of OCD and depression.⁴

How should I take Zoloft?

You should only take Zoloft after consulting with a healthcare provider. Generally, you will take it once daily, and doctors recommend taking it with food.

During the early stages of your treatment, you'll take small doses, gradually increasing over a few weeks. In most cases, you’ll start with 50mg, which your doctor can increase to 200mg. They will recommend an appropriate dose based on their assessment of your condition. 

It’s important to continue taking the medication for four weeks and not miss any doses for your doctor to assess your progress.

Within the first 1-2 weeks of taking Zoloft for symptoms of depression, your sleep, energy, or appetite may improve. This is an indication that Zoloft is working. It can take 6–8 weeks for symptoms such as depressed mood and loss of interest in activities to improve and up to 12 weeks for OCD symptoms to improve.

If you wish to stop taking Zoloft, please speak to your doctor. Immediately stopping Zoloft can lead to significant withdrawal symptoms, which can be dangerous. Your doctor will gradually reduce your dose to minimize withdrawal symptoms in a process known as tapering.

Side effects of Zoloft

Like most drugs on the market, Zoloft has some side effects.

Common side effects

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Headache

  • Feeling nervous

  • Fatigue

  • Dry mouth

  • Increased sweating

  • Insomnia

  • Restlessness

  • Sexual side effects, such as delayed ejaculation and problems with orgasm

If you continue taking Zoloft, most of these side effects will improve in a week or two. 

Uncommon side effects

  • Increased risk of bleeding events

  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering

  • Angle-closure glaucoma

  • A potential higher risk of suicidal behavior within the first year of starting treatment

Who should not take Zoloft?

Zoloft is a fairly safe drug. However, it has some side effects that some people may be more prone to. Inform your doctor if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have any of these conditions:

  • Heart problems

  • Glaucoma

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Seizure disorders

The lowdown

For many people who struggle with OCD, Zoloft can be an effective treatment. Several decades of research show that SSRIs are a useful treatment option for OCD.

At HealthMatch, we're committed to advancing medical research to improve the treatment of conditions such as OCD and many others. That's why we have a large team of medical researchers and doctors continuously performing clinical trials. Sign up today to join the efforts to develop tomorrow's cures today.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take for Zoloft to work?

Most people notice positive results within 4–6 weeks of treatment for depression. For OCD, you may need up to 12 weeks to experience the full effects.

Do any medications react with Zoloft?

You should avoid taking Zoloft with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), such as tranylcypromine, selegiline, and rasagiline.

There is also a risk of serotonin syndrome when you combine medications with Zoloft. These include: 

  • Anti-migraine medications called triptans

  • Herbal supplement St John’s wort

  • Certain opioids, including tramadol

  • Anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine and valproic acid

Speak with your doctor about other medications you may be taking before starting Zoloft. 

Is there anything that I should avoid while taking Zoloft?

Avoid using illicit drugs and drinking alcohol while taking Zoloft and other antidepressants.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

Do you want to know if there are any Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?
Have you been diagnosed with Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Editor’s picks